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What happens is fact. Truth is what we think about what happens. – Robert McKee

Welcome to Part 4 of our SCBWI Conference series…Putting the Real into Fiction. Again, don’t forget to check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 if you’d like.

This workshop was run by Katherine Longshore, the author of the YA historical fiction novel Gilt, which is set in the court of King Henry VIII and told from the point of view of Catherine Howard’s best friend, Kitty Tylney. I haven’t read it yet, but it looks good, and the excerpts I heard at the conference definitely have me intrigued. Longshore’s workshop was all about making your fiction feel realistic, and the tips she gave can be applied to all genres.


Victory Dragon Color

The Victory Dragon

Facts are real. History, science, geography, all those things are “real.” But so are memories, emotions, and personal experiences, all of which can be drawn on to create realistic fiction.

When in pursuit of the real to put into your fiction, Longshore recommended turning to several sources. First, research, Hermione-style. For her book she used “Queen Bees and Wannabes” and “The Gift of Fear” to help determine how her characters should act in certain situations. This gave their actions a deeper element of truth.

She also recommends personal research. If your character does a sport, try doing it for yourself to get a deeper understanding of it. If your book is set somewhere else, try visiting that place if you can. Any personal research you can do is only going to make your book feel that much more real, especially if you are able to include sensory details to help a setting or action really come to life.


Stories happen around us all the time – we just have to open our eyes and let ourselves be inspired. Longshore gave two examples of fiction books that were inspired by real stories: “Leverage” by Joshua C. Cohen and “A Northern Light” by Jennifer Donnelly.

But, you can also be inspired by your own personal experience. Your personal experience doesn’t have to be the story itself, but it can serve as a jumping off point for the story. For example, the book “Skinny” by Donna Cooner is inspired by the author’s own struggle with weight loss, but it’s not really her story. She was just inspired by her own events enough to turn them into a fictional story that can then speak more widely to everyone.


Longshore asked us all this question: “What’s most important in a book? The real, or the fiction?”

To me personally, I think the story is what’s most important, as long as you’re not writing non-fiction. If you have to fudge a few details in order to get the wider truth across, well, that’s what fiction is all about in my opinion. Longshore specified that really, you can’t let either one take the higher role, but you need to find a balance between them. She also told us truth doesn’t have to be the facts, but it does have to be real.

According to Robert McKee, “Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.” I love this quote because I think it touches on what’s so wonderful about writers – they are creating a truth that’s deeper than reality.

Tomorrow I’m going to take a break from my conference notes to bring you all a long-overdue Fiction Friday. Then next week I’ll finish up with “Great Openings” and “Keep Your Eye on the Arc” before turning the blog over to Kati and her illustration track, so stay tuned! 🙂